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July 2014

Review: Drag King Richard III, Riverside Studios

Drag King Richard III (photo by Jamie Scott-Smith) 7
Bonnie Adair and Anne Zander in Drag King Richard III, Riverside Studios. Photo by Jamie Scott-Smith

This play is full of the unexpected. I didn't expect it to be quite so serious - the title led me to think of something completely different and I didn't expect to be cowering behind the fourth wall having been singled out in a dance scene by one of the actors.

It is, on the whole, a curious piece that is at times devastating in it observations about the life of lesbian and transgender friends and at other times frustrating in its execution.

Writer Terri Power draws inspiration from the words of Shakespeare's Richard III for the character Laurie/Laurence (Anne Zander) who has always fancied girls but feels trapped in her female form.  Richard's description of his outward appearance becomes a reflection of how Laurie feels about herself and how she is perceived by society. Later when Richard's seduction of Anne is re-enacted the angrily delivered description of the King as a "foul deformity" carries a different weight.

These occasional Richard scenes are mingled with the story of Laurie's friendship with lesbian La Femme (Bonnie Adair) through high school until a misunderstanding sets them on different paths. They return to each other later but La Femme struggles with Laurie's decision to have a sex change.

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Review: Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster in A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

Gillian Anderson and Ben Foster in A Streetcar Named Desire. Production photo by Johan Persson

Australian director Benedict Andrews burst onto London's theatre scene two years ago with his avant garde production of Chekhov's three sisters - there was a mound of mud and a slowly disappearing stage made up of small square tables. It divided opinion - I loved it flaws and all - so some may approach his production of a Streetcar Named Desire with trepidation.

There is no mud this time but Stella (Vanessa Kirby) and Stanley's (Ben Foster) two room apartment is positioned on a revolve in the centre of the auditorium. As the play begins so does the revolve giving you an ever changing view of the actors.

You have to work to follow the action as sometimes parts of the set slowly obscure what is going on - there are no best seats - but the effect is like emotional voyeurism. The sense of being 'an audience' is heightened but an audience that shouldn't really be watching this domestic drama unfold, you are a rubber-necker passing an emotional car wreck.

It can feel frustrating to begin with as you miss some of the close ups (intrigued by how this is going to be filmed for NT Live) but the performances punch through and that is the power of this play. It is muscular and tense, dripping in emotions and desires both complex and base. From Stanley's first up/down assessment of Blanche's (Gillian Anderson) assets to Stella's raw and guttural sobs at the end.

Anderson's Blanche is trapped in world which is a mixture of her past life and her own fantasy. Her tailored and showy clothes and manners at odds with the urban, earthy Kowalski home where she has sought sanctuary. She regresses as the play progresses to a time of her youth, of flouncy prom dresses and tiaras. In some ways reminded it me of the character Miss Haversham in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (a part she has played on screen opposite Kirby as Estella) a brittle and fragile soul destroyed by one devastating act.

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Review: Lisa Dillon is the RSC's riotous Roaring Girl, Stratford Upon Avon

Lisa Dillon as Moll Cutpurse in the RSC's Roaring Girl

Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton's The Roaring Girl is one of a trio of plays running at the Swan Theatre which have great parts for women and I was with @Polyg when she tweeted that she wanted to be Lisa Dillon who plays protagonist Moll Cutpurse.

Director Jo Davies' production is fast, loud and brash with music accompaniment coming from electric guitars, drums and a double base. The plot involves an almost dizzying number of characters and storylines. All centred around affairs of the heart, entrapment and duplicity with both sexes behaving badly.

However, through it all there is Moll. A tobacco-smoking, male-attire wearing woman who can look after herself. She lives by her wit, acumen and occasionally nifty fight moves in order to maintain her independence in a man's world. She has a reputation as a pick-pocket and her choice of dress and lifestyle leads many to the conclusion that she is loose woman. The irony is that despite her methods she isn't what she seems and is often the better person.

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Review: Uncomfortable viewing - The Nether, Royal Court

David Beames (Doyle) and Stanley Townsend (Sims) in The Nether, Royal Court

I'm not sure I could give The Nether a second viewing. I say that not because it is bad, far from it, it is dazzlingly staged and one of the most thought provoking plays I've seen for a while, it is just very uncomfortable to watch.

The Nether of Jennifer Haley's play is a virtual world of total sensory immersion where humans are choosing to spend more and more of their time. There are 'realms' for all aspects of life and in The Nether you get to be whoever you want.

It is part detective story, part examination of the morality of modern society in a virtual world. Morris (Amanda Hale), a detective, discovers a realm called The Hideaway that offers a disturbing brand of entertainment and sets about unearthing who is behind the virtual characters and where the servers are. And this is where it gets uncomfortable because this particular brand of entertainment involves children.

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Review: RSC's Two Gentlemen of Verona, Stratford Upon Avon

2GentsNEWForLiveHomepageTwo Gentlemen of Verona was described to me as a romantic comedy and I can't think of a better description.

First there is Proteus (Mark Arends) who is a hopeless romantic and in love with Julia (Pearl Chanda) who is fickle about receiving his attentions in spite of herself. Then there is Valentine (Michael Marcus), Proteus' best friend, who is determined never to be a slave to love but of course falls head over heels for Sylvia (Sarah MacRae), the Duke of Milan's daughter, to whoms court he has been sent.

Of course the path of true love never did run smooth. Sylvia is betrothed to someone else of her father's choosing and, just as Proteus and Julia are getting it together, he is sent to join Valentine where he too falls in love with Sylvia.

The lovers make a beautiful foursome and, under Simon Godwin's direction, you are easily carried along by their stories. There is a refreshing constancy to Valentine and Sylvia which contrasts nicely with the fickleness of Proteus and has you rooting for them.

Designer Paul Wills has given the play a contemporary setting with a nod to the Italian location in the ornate balcony and sweeping stairs. As the audience arrive the stage is set up as a bustling cafe. If you are sat on the front row you may be invited up on stage to have a chat with some of the 'customers'. It is one of the rare occasions I was sat on the second row :0( but a good reason to get to your seat early.

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Review: Helen McCrory is Medea at the National Theatre


Helen McCrory's Medea is the physical embodiment of barely contained anger and hurt. Desperation and vengefulness make for a potent mix and their is a feistiness and passion that we can only assume Jason (Danny Sapani) found alluring when they first met.

Medea is a woman who kills for love, kills her own brother to win her man and it is an act than can only lead one way when she is betrayed by Jason for a younger, rich woman as we are told in the prologue by the Nurse (Michaela Coel).

Director Carrie Cracknell's production plays with this energy, this passion, mixing sombre atmospheric music, devised by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory and contemporary dance sequences that quiver and pulse as Medea sets upon her path of revenge.

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Review: The Tempest at the Cockpit Theatre

Cockpit Tempest Final imageRegardless how many big budget versions are knocking around London's main theatres Shakespeare remains popular with fringe production companies and, arguably, it is in these small venues where the need to do something different is greater.

That is certainly the approach being taken by the Tree Folk Theatre Company which has incorporated music, dance and puppetry into its trimmed down version of The Tempest. Prospero is performed with masked head that conjures up images of tree folk, complete with slightly scary bug eyes and flowing green and blue plastic bag hair. Ariel, similarly, but with longer sprite-like face and white-blue plastic hair.

Caliban is a bald head, torso, hands and feet manipulated by three actors. His movement sometimes human-like sometimes breaking into pieces and reforming elsewhere (perhaps something better suited to Ariel?)

The visual depiction works wells for the magical island's inhabitants in Shakespeare's shipwreck comedy drama. There is also some innovative use of books which double up as magical creatures more than once. The cast, some taking two parts, also add sound effects and musical interludes with guitars, violins or just by breaking into song as the fantastical story unfolds.

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Review: Billie Piper in Great Britain, National Theatre

Billie Piper as Paige Britain in Great Britain. Photo by Alastair Muir

Is Billie Piper's character Paige Britain the female and modern equivalent to Shakespeare's Richard III?

Paige is the ruthlessly driven news editor of The Free Press in Richard Bean's satirical, black comedy who sees phone hacking as a gift to sell papers and further her career. She has no moral compass and treats downfalls and deaths as a result of her exposés almost as collateral damage. OK she never has her hand actually on the knife like Shakespeare's murderous King but she has a justification for everything, often revealing it directly to the audience.

It is not just Paige who lacks scruples, politicians and the police don't come out of it very well either. In Richard III's England people in power lived and died by their reputation and loyalty and so it is here but it is the media which holds all the cards.

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Review: Nigel Havers and Sian Phillips in The Importance of Being Earnest at Harold Pinter Theatre

Theimportanceofbeingearnest-haroldpintertheatreThere's not much room for variation in producing Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, right? It's not a play that naturally lends itself to modern dress or interpretation or anything remotely avant-garde and that is OK, it is part of its charm.

Surprised then when this production, directed by Lucy Bailey, opens with partial modern dress and Nigel Havers' 'Algernon' answering a mobile phone. It is OK though, this is the Bunbury Players doing a final at-home run-through for their production of The Importance of Being Earnest. They are all a bit long in the tooth but their productions are legendary, apparently.

It's a nice set up with tensions between the cast, hints at affairs between cast members and a disappearing plate of prop cucumber sandwiches. It is an extra layer of intrigue, potential gaffs and japes - Cheri Lunghi ('Gwendoline') is followed around, while she performs, props are missing and the prompt sits comfortably in a window seat.

The problem is that as the 'Earnest' run through progresses the references the Bunbury Players start to disappear until, other than a discussion about whether Algernon should wink on his last line of the first half, it is pretty much a straight up production.

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Review: Daytona at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Harry Shearer, Oliver Cotton and Maureen Lipman in Daytona

Getting invited to a West End premiere is a rare treat and on this occasion made all the more special by a certain Hugh Jackman sat just a few rows behind.

My endorsement is never going to carry the weight of such a Hollywood A-lister and fan of the stage* but I never got the chance to ask him what he thought of Daytona as he was whisked off to a VIP area straight afterwards (What's On Stage's photos here).

The play, written by Oliver Cotton, started life at the Park Theatre before touring and has now found its way into the West End at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. It tells the story of retired couple Elli (Maureen Lipman) and Joe (Harry Shearer) who keep active by entering ballroom dancing competitions and socialising with friends. They bicker but obviously care about each other, enjoying a simple and cosy life.

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